In 1967, at the age of 23, Elizabeth Laird set off for Addis Ababa to take up her first teaching post. She was introduced to Haile Selassie, made a pilgrimage across the mountains on foot to the ancient city of Lalibela, hitched a ride on an oil tanker across the Danakil Desert, and was arrested for a murder she had not committed. Back in Britain, Laird established herself as a major author of fiction for children and young adults, but she always wanted to return to Ethiopia. Her chance came in the late 1990s, when the British Council in Addis Ababa invited her to collect folk stories from every region of the country. Encountering ex-guerrilla fighters, camel traders, Coptic nuns and tribespeople en route, Laird has written a remarkable account of her journey interwoven with a treasure trove of stories featuring princes and maidens, snakes and lions, zombies and hyena-women.
Elizabeth Laird was born in New Zealand in 1943, the fourth of five children. In 1945, Laird and her family returned to Britain and she grew up in South London, where she was educated at Croydon High School. When she was eighteen, Laird started teaching at a school in Malaysia. She decided to continue her adventurous life, even though she was bitten by a poisonous snake and went down with typhoid. After attending the university in Bristol, Laird began teaching English in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She and a friend would hire mules and go into remote areas in the holidays. After a while at Edinburgh University, Laird worked in India for a summer. During travel, she met her future husband, David McDowall. The couple were married in 1975 and have two sons, Angus and William. Laird has also visited Iraq and Lebanon. She claims to dislike snakes, porridge and being cold but enjoys very dark chocolate, Mozart, reading and playing the violin in the Iraq Symphony Orchestra. She and her husband currently divide their time between London and Edinburgh.